Due to the high-profile data breaches, cybersecurity has become a household word. Think back to just one month ago, when the data breach at Equifax exposed the personal information for 145.5 million consumers – almost half of all Americans.

At Cisco, we know our customers and other business leaders are increasingly aware of this important issue and are taking steps to make their organizations more secure, but there are a lot of obstacles on the road to being prepared. One of the biggest is finding trained and certified security personnel.

Simply put, there are not enough qualified applicants to keep pace with the need. In 2017, there are 1 million unfilled cybersecurity positions, and if we keep on this trend, this number is expected to grow to 3.5 million by 2021.

The good news is that there is a way to fill the gap.  From community colleges to top-rated universities, higher education institutions are racing to include cybersecurity training programs in their curriculum. Cisco is making its contribution to filling the gap through the Networking Academy, recently adding a Cyber Operations Track to our regular Cisco Certified Network Associate Routing & Switching (CCNA) to train new security operations center analysts in universities, colleges, high schools and vocational schools. We have also invested $10 million in scholarships for this training.

But it’s not enough to offer the training.  We need to make it attractive to everyone – including the younger generations of students, millennials and the neo-digital natives of Generation Z. But the largest untapped potential is from the 50% of the population: women.

Women’s representation in the cybersecurity workforce has remained at 11 percent since 2013, despite the growing shortage of cybersecurity workers worldwide, according to a recent (ISC) survey. We need to make tech jobs attractive to women and girls.

Organizations need to prioritize attracting, retaining, developing and celebrating women to take advantage of this untapped pool of potential security professionals. Events like International Girls in ICT Day aim to introduce girls and young women to careers in technology. At Cisco, our Connected Women organization has a global reach with more than 6,800 members across 42 countries. Our recent Women of Impact conference had 9,000+ employees, customers, and partners who came together as a global community to learn and be inspired by the theme. These types of events are driving forces to promote gender diversity, but there is much more work that needs to be done before we will see the percentage significantly increase.

I urge all of you to take an active role in encouraging women to pursue careers in technology and especially in cybersecurity. Join mentoring circles and executive shadow programs. Reach out to middle and high schools to guest speak at their events. Use your passion for technology to drive programs and initiatives that will lead the change.

As the first White House female CIO, Theresa Payton, said recently in an interview, “I believe the best cybersecurity professionals are insatiable learners and highly skilled problem solvers who think about the user while never underestimating the adversary.” These are the qualities organizations should be seeking across all candidates, but first we need to encourage more women to pursue this work to ensure a pipeline of qualified security personnel. It’s going to take a cultural shift, and it needs to start now.

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, and Cisco is a Champion Sponsor of this annual campaign to help people recognize the importance of cybersecurity. For the latest resources and events, visit cisco.com/go/cybersecuritymonth.


Alison Gleeson

Senior Vice President, Americas

Worldwide Sales